"Thus Sprach Peatzches": Ian Svenonius interviews Peaches (Arthur No. 1/October 2002)

Originally published in Arthur No. 1 (October 2002)

Thus Sprach Peatzches
Live from a Berlin beergarden: it’s the crotchtastic techno-dynamo Peaches, on the phone with the intrepid Ian Svenonius.

She rescues rock ‘n’ roll from its doldrums and self referential morass; she lassoes in the lost tribes and constructs for them a common language. She builds an Ark for escape from the downpour of vengeful judgment on a rock world damned for its irrelevance—but unlike Noah, she doesn’t discriminate against homosexuals. She straddles paradox with legs stretched across the sea of contradiction; legs which emanate from the crotch emblazoned totemistically on her breakthrough underground hit punk rock disco album Teaches of Peaches. She is the ferocious rockin’ techno dynamo Peaches.

For those poor souls living under a rock, Peaches has led the way for the most exciting underground Rock N Roll trend going; the feminist hip-hop/techno/ Punk Rock melange which has captured the imagination of artists everywhere. Her album, pulsing at better discos everywhere, was composed and played entirely by her with the help of a Roland MC 505 Groovebox which she calls her ‘MC5.’

Peaches originates from Canada, a country stuck halfway between US commercial vulgarity and old world conservatism. While providing refuge for expatriate artists Rick James and Funkadelic during Vietnam, Toronto was too comfortable to spawn the insatiable rock n roll animals which haunted the desolate southern shores of Michigan. Why and how then was Peaches chosen to be the innovating vessel for ‘electro-clash,’ the marriage of forms which is being hailed as a rock n roll revolution?

Stan Lee theorizes: “Perhaps, in a freakish confluence of college radio signals, the music of the Stooges and DJ Assault were combined in a piece of crystalline mist which floated from Detroit across the frozen waste of Lake Erie. Maybe this bit of matter entered Peaches’ brain through her earhole and transformed her into the inspired, Frankenstein synthesis of the two encapsulated artists who would meld the primal urge of rock ’n’ roll with the new technology of software and itty bitty circuitry…”

Whatever the case, Peaches would soon boast autonomy through the fusion and mastery of these formerly opposed forms, but like a hybrid mutant, she would be stronger than either. Peaches wouldn’t work in the derivative manner of the usual rocker but neither would she be condemned to the computer coldness which would dog so many of her electro-enabled peers. Live, with her dynamism and assuredness, she came to resemble a young Tom Jones.

Peaches makes her home in Berlin. Appropriately, the city is a symbol for liberation and conquest. It stood for western decadence within Stalinist sparta; for metropolitan menshevism against Hitler’s bucolic Bavaria, for Spartacists and Dadaists in the midst of Prussian autocratic militancy. The gateway either to western decadence or to Slavic exoticism. The Berlinese tradition of resistance and conflict is woven within Peaches’ music but is now aimed against the repression and hypocrite morality of her bourgeois nemesis.

Rock and Techno. America and Europe. East and West. Past and Future. Peaches straddles these worlds and contradictions with ease and grace; a template for artistry, even a candidate for cloning; but woe/whoa to the scientist who attempts a scraping, for Peaches is a wildcat dynamo live, like perhaps nothing you’ve seen. I talked to Peaches from a biergarten in Berlin as she enjoyed a summer Wheat Beer with a bit of lemon. She sat with her proteges Electrocute enjoying a brief vacation from her fairy tale life of constant touring and festival performances.

I was concerned that she wasn’t capitalizing on her pioneer status within the “electro” movement which she’s done so much to instigate into being…With her killer debut Teaches already two years old, the attention deficit will forget their debt to her….remarkably, she doesn’t care.

“That’s alright. If I’m influential one time, that’s the best I can ask for really. I’m not saying I’m giving up or something but that’s a pretty fucking amazing thing. But now I’ve seen the effects of it being in Berlin, watching Electrocute and Barbara Brockhaus I really feel like I had a little influence on them; All these girls doing stuff…”

Don’t be fooled by this insipid modesty! It’s unbecoming. I’m on the phone with Peaches but when in person, I avert my eyes from her holiness; she’s that fantastic! She’s built the bridge of possibility, combining punk’s DIY and Techno’s autonomous production medium as no one else was able to before. But before her electro days, Peaches was just an old fashioned rocker.

“I had a band called The Shit which was really cool, there were four of us, whatever we wrote in the room, that was our set, that kind of avant-garde punk shit but it was really cool. And I still have a band called Feedom which is complete classic rock riffs, one riff, every song is one riff that just gets more intense in that band. It’s completely instrumental; [fellow Kitty-Yo artist] Gonzales is the drummer, [Kitty-Yo artist] Taylor Savvy plays lap steel through a distortion pedal and I’m the bass player.”

Peaches is being coy again. Legend tells us of other groups like Mermaid Hotel and Fancypants Hoodlum, of auteur films touring festivals, of teaching children, even of directing theatre! After all these exploits with their social emphases, with the Canadian civic ethos and her manic exhortations for involvement of her live audience, isn’t her creative singularity lonely? What, I wonder, is Peaches’ process, as she works in her artist’s garret, alone with her plastic machines?

“I make beats, smoke drugs, masturbate, eat, write some lyrics…but I never think about the beats and the lyrics going together. That’s one way. The other way is I put on a beat and put on a guitar and sing and I tape it for like two hours and maybe there’s16 minutes of stuff that jumps out at me. I still write a lot on guitar; I play guitar a lot like a bass; a lot of that can be transferred into electronic bass sounds or whatever. I sometimes trick myself that I’m playing in a band or whatever… put on my guitar and beat and pretend it’s a band.”

Berlin, with its history of expatriate artists escaping provincialism and small town morality, provides the perfect setting I suppose , for someone like Peaches whose body of creation is based entirely around Liberation. Did she feel she had to escape Canada?

“When it comes to surroundings and people and provincial attitudes and things like that, I’m pretty patient. So, I didn’t leave Canada kicking and screaming…I just did my own thing. But in terms of a career, I couldn’t do it there. Here, somehow, maybe it was the exoticism, that I was from somewhere else also. And the music really caught on here. And, even though I have rock elements, I think that Europe…I mean they’re just getting into all the electro stuff in the USA but it’s really so, I hate to say, how far behind it is…but, again, in Europe they’re pretty far behind in really good underground style rock n roll , so it’s a trade off. But because I come from North America I think I can bring it back to North America, y’know?”

Yes, I do know. In fact, those who’ve seen Peaches know that, if there were any justice, she would eclipse Elvis in regards to infamy regarding crotchistics and shimmy shaking; that she leaves the tedious pretenders (Madonna, Lil Kim, yawn, snore) in the stone age with her truly polymorphous perversity. Sadly, some morons mistake her futurist presentation for some kind of faddish retrogression.

“I really couldn’t give a shit about the 80’s or retro or anything; I heard it the first time,” she says with characteristic candor. Amen to that. Meanwhile, I’m intrigued as to the path her music will take; the possibility of different aggregations and instruments. But while Peaches politely humors my questions, she makes it clear she isn’t following some David Bowie prescribed blueprint whereby she careeristically moves in a commercially digestible dialectic through the various rock band configurations.

“…Sometimes we do Feedom for an encore; I play live guitar a lot…I don’t wanna make it too much like a band though. I just started working with two really great women, one’s a sex trade worker and one’s a stripper; it sounds campy but to them it’s cool to do something cool and sex oriented that isn’t so male based. I wanna work with PEOPLE, [but] I don’t always wanna work with musicians in the way that they work. But I did collaborate with Pan Sonic; that was cool…we played a show together and they played their instruments and I played mine…

At this point the idiocy of asking a great artist banal questions becomes intolerable, so I bid adieu. See her live when you can. It’s like seeing the barbudos enter Havana or the Rats conquer NIMH; a Liberating Spectacle and a Rocking Show.

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